The mayor’s efforts to reduce traffic risks for children around schools by her Smarter Parker campaign, encouraging parents to be more careful where they stop when they drop children at school, are welcome, but can only have a limited impact.
The major problem is that parents fear that the roads around our schools are dangerous so they want to deliver their children as close as possible to the school gates. Their fears are well-founded – everyone knows the traffic chaos at the time of ‘school runs’.
But there are other dangers to consider too, which they may not be aware of.
These include high levels of air pollution, which children are particularly sensitive to, and most of the pollutants come from the very vehicles used to take children ’safely’ to school.
Another is that research has shown that children who are driven to school start the day less alert than those who have walked, cycled or scooted there, and are more likely to be overweight.
But have a look in the morning in the school holidays. Outside many schools roads are empty, safe and unpolluted
It is obvious that something should be done to make it possible to get back to the position that many of us grew up with, of almost every child walking to school or using public transport to get them within walking distance.
Both national and local government are now calling for action towards this. Schools are supposed to agree action plans to get children safely and actively to school.
These may involve organising ‘walking buses’ on many popular routes to school, where adults supervise ‘crocodiles’ so that groups of children can walk safely together, and working with the local community to make roads over a wide area around the school more pedestrian and cycle-friendly, providing school lockers to store books and outdoor clothes, and cycle and scooter racks, etc.
Of course, all these efforts will require some modest funding. Let’s hope government recognises and responds to that.
I believe quite a number of schools in North Tyneside are already getting help from a national charity called Living Streets, which has people experienced in working with schools and local communities to develop ways of making streets around schools places where we can all enjoy walking and cycling safely, which would benefit all of us.
I urge the mayor to take her policy to the next logical level and try to get all the schools to move on this as one of their priorities. We know now that inactivity is one of the big factors in the overweight epidemic, which is disabling so many people and nearly overwhelming the NHS, and this can start in childhood.
Walking is the easiest way to be active and our children need to get that habit young.
Dr Joyce Leeson